In so far as the foregoing analysis is sound, we have in the effortful act of will an experience of ourselves of a unique kind which is such as by its very nature to oblige the subject of it to affirm his own freedom, in the sense of freedom just explained. Our task now is to come to some decision upon the ultimate credentials of this affirmation or claim.
But it is of quite cardinal importance, I think, to see clearly at the beginning that an inquiry into the credentials of this affirmation of freedom is not so much an inquiry into the reasons for believing, as an inquiry into the reasons for disbelieving. The question to be asked is 'Why should we not accept the validity of the affirmation with as much complaisance as we accept the validity of any other affirmation which we find ourselves obliged to make?' Here is an affirmation which comes to us bearing an authority far more profound than that of well-authenticated scientific laws, an authority, indeed, strictly comparable to that of syllogistic inference. For our nature compels us to judge thus, it would seem. As such, this affirmation cannot be legitimately required to furnish positive grounds for believing, but only to dispose satisfactorily of the reasons presented for disbelieving.
To this way of posing the problem it is no answer at all to urge that a mere 'feeling in our minds' is far too frail a basis to serve as the sole positive support of a claim of such far-reaching significance. The adoption of this attitude is not uncommon. But it betrays a serious misunderstanding of the conditions of solution of the problem of freedom. The sole positive evidence that ever could be adduced for free will must from the nature of the case be of the type of 'immediate experience' or 'feeling.'l I do not mean, of course, that a fully cogent argument for freedom can be developed without any reference to other aspects of reality. This is not so. If the argument is to convince, we must be able to show, for example, that freedom is consistent with the actual observed facts of personal behaviour. But the point is that such references can never have more than a negative import. No interpretation of the observed facts of behaviour, nor a fortiori of the observed facts of organic and inorganic nature, could ever furnish us with a positive indication of freedom. The investigation of these phenomena might, indeed, assist the Libertarian's case if it happened to suggest a strong probability for the hypothesis that causal continuity is not universal. But, at the very best, we could clearly infer from this only that the observed facts are compatible with freedom, not that they require freedom. The facts, as so envisaged, would be just as compatible with the hypothesis of the intervention of mere 'chance,' as with the hypothesis that rational beings have this originative power which we call freedom. And as we shall see later, freedom as experienced (and there is no other way of understanding what it means) is apprehended as being quite as sharply opposed to 'chance' or 'capricious intervention,' as it is to 'causal continuity'.
1 If, at least, we except the 'ethical argument for freedom.' This argument is, I think, of very real importance, but it depends for its force upon the validity of certain postulates which require independent discussion. At the present stage of the argument it must be discounted. See, however, Chapter VI (The Reality Of Moral Obligation. Section 1. Absolute Idealism And The Status Of Morality)., Section 7.
There is, then, nothing in observed objective facts, whatever be the result of their examination, which could establish positively, nay, nor even suggest, the reality of personal freedom. Were it not for immediate experience man would never so much as harbour a suspicion that he is a free agent. For this reason the defender of freedom is bound to rest his case ultimately upon such experience, trying as best he may to establish its credentials. But, for the same reason, it is obviously illegitimate for the Determinist to seek to discredit his opponent on the ground that the latter's case hangs in the end on nothing more substantial than a 'mere feeling.' It does so hang, but this is not a defect. It is due to the very nature of that which is being defended. If there is freedom, then it is on this basis, and on no other, that it can be known to be. To demand of the defender of freedom that he should cease to rest his case upon a 'mere feeling' and conduct his argument more tangibly in the 'scientific' region of observed facts, is just to invite him to abandon his thesis altogether.
The Determinist, on the other hand, may properly enough rest his case, in large part, upon consideration of the observed objective facts. These facts, although they can on no interpretation positively point to freedom, may on one interpretation positively point to the rejection of freedom. If we find that the facts, wherever investigated, cannot reasonably be construed to be other than subject to all-pervasive causal law, then of course there is no room for the hypothesis of personal freedom in the sense that is here in question. The Determinist is, in principle, able to develop a strong argument irrespective of what he may also have to say in criticism of such experiences as that of 'effortful' willing.
Nevertheless the Determinist who appreciates his problem is likely to give a good deal of labour to disturbing the credentials of the 'feeling' of freedom, and that for two reasons.
(1) It is not really possible, at the present stage of knowledge at any rate, to maintain seriously that the observed facts of human conduct demand the hypothesis of all-pervasive causal continuity. The argument for irrevocable causal law in this sphere draws a good deal of its strength from mere analogy with the sphere of material processes - an analogy which perhaps appears more and more venturesome the more closely we attend to the differences in kind between the material and the mental. It is true, of course, that observation of conduct itself points indubitably to at least a measure of intelligible continuity. The possibility of at least approximate prediction in the sphere of conduct is established beyond reasonable doubt, and implies intelligible continuity of some sort. But no responsible Libertarian really wishes to deny this. He knows that if his 'freedom' is to be one which he can make any show of defending at all, it must be one which is consistent with a distinct measure of continuity. For my own part, I shall consider it an obligation to make clear that the freedom which I defend does not jeopardise in the smallest degree such measure of continuity in conduct as is definitely established from the observed facts.